A Golfing Love Story
by Ian Cruickshank, a Toronto based golf writer who has written about the game for magazines in Canada, the United States, Japan and Britain. His ultimate golfing goals are to straighten out his slice and par the last three holes at Dundarave.
I've spent the last 20 years chasing a little white ball around the globe. I've teed it up in the shaggy dunes of Ireland, played through a mob of kangaroos in Australia, shanked drives in the stark Arizona desert, and putted in the shadows of the Rocky Mountain peaks. I've enjoyed them all, but there is one place that I come back to year after year and that's Prince Edward Island.
There are lots of reasons for my Island fixation. PEI now has 25 courses to choose from, everything from family fun, nine-hole layouts, to full-blooded championship courses that rank with the best anywhere in the world.
I like the people here, from the kid in the backshop at Dundarave who loaded my clubs into the car and then drew me a map of how to get to the best lobster restaurant on the Island, to LPGA star Lorie Kane. I bumped into Lorie in Charlottetown last summer. She was hanging out with her nieces and catching her breath before jetting back to the Tour. We talked about how good the golf is now in PEI and how proud she is to be an Island girl.
I like the fact that everything is close by in PEI. If I wake up feeling like Tiger Woods, I can strap on the bag and launch it for 36 holes at two different courses. If I wake up feeling merely mortal, I can play 18 in the morning and flake out at the beach in the afternoon, or take in a show in Charlottetown or browse the art galleries. A round of golf does not have to take up a whole Island day.
I like the choices of places to stay. I've spent my Island golf vacations in cozy bed and breakfasts, stately century-old inns, sophisticated city hotels and a new five-star resort, all located just around the corner from the first tee of my next course.
And I like the green fees. With my Scottish background, I'm not too proud to admit that price plays a big part in where I tee it up. The average green fee on the Island is less than half of what you'd pay at any big-city course. The value for money is nearly as large as the Island welcome.
Out of PEI's two dozen courses, I have a few favourites. You can't come to the Island and not play the Links at Crowbush Cove. Originally slated as a community-built, nine-hole layout, the project picked up steam when local golfers realized the possibilities of the land. It stretches along the massive dunes at the edge of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Tom McBroom, one of the country's top architects, was hired and he created a links course masterpiece. The accolades came quickly. In 1994, Golf Digest named Crowbush the Best New Course in Canada, and in 1998 it garnered worldwide attention when it hosted a Skins Game with Fred Couples, Mark O'Meara, John Daly and Mike Weir. Long John was so pumped up by the PEI experience that he whacked a 355-yard drive on the 9th hole and then, on the 18th tee, yanked his putter out of the bag and smacked the ball 220 yards down the centre of the fairway.
Crowbush never plays the same way twice. Because of the winds that slice in off the Gulf, it is a Jekyll and Hyde course. Depending on the conditions, some days it's a seven iron and other days it takes a three wood to clear the tidal pond that guards the 8th green. Whatever the weather, when I come to Crowbush, I always climb to the back tees of the 11th hole and look out to the horizon. It's sand dunes and salt water as far as the eye can see – unforgettable.
The 36 holes at Brudenell River and the adjoining Dundarave golf course are the most potent one/two combination I ever played. The River course runs through a terrific mix of heavy forest, rushing water and big-shouldered hills, while the newer Dundarave course is the Island monster, stretching to 7,300 yards from the tips. Make sure you buckle up your chinstrap before playing its finishing four holes.
Anyone who is under the misconception that Prince Edward Island is flat needs to head to the Glasgow Hills Resort & Country Club. The course, which opened in the summer of 2001, zigzags along the high ground, with sparkling blue views of the River Clyde and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
In nearby Cavendish, golfers can see the works of two Canadian geniuses. The village was once home to L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables stories, and is still the site of the Green Gables Golf Course. It was designed by Stanley Thompson, the architect behind such classics as Jasper, Banff and Highlands Links.
As for my favourite hole in PEI, it has to be the 7th at Mill River on the west end of the Island. The fairway of this par 4 is split in the centre by 11 ponds. If you are lucky enough to stay dry, the approach shot is all uphill to a green that slants from back to front.
I've got another golf bag full of Island highlights but will keep them to myself for now. Part of the thrill of playing in Prince Edward Island is discovering your own golfing gems.
For more information on golf on the Island, contact: www.golfpei.com.